Witnessing someone being murdered is traumatizing for anyone. Imagine if you were just 10 years old and witnessed that. Imagine if the person being murdered was a police officer.
Late in the evening of June 5, 1969, 10-year old Louie Martinez was looking out his living room window, near 3rd and Raitt Streets in Santa Ana, when he saw a police officer outside. Like any 10-year old, Louie was curious what the officer was doing. From less than 25 feet away he watched as the officer approached two people near the sidewalk.
His grandmother asked him, “What are you looking at?”
She joined him at the window and as she was pulling him close they heard two gunshots.
Louie recalls, “At that point my life was impacted forever.”
With his view partially blocked by a tree, Louie pushed away from his grandmother to get a better view. He watched as the police officer took several steps backwards and fell to the ground. Louie heard the officer crying out, “Help me, someone please help me.”
With his grandmother pleading with him to stay inside, Louie ran to his father, telling him what he had seen. They walked outside and after telling Louie to stay put, his father approached the wounded police officer. Despite his father’s orders to stay back, Louie walked up to the officer with his father.
His father asked the officer if he had been shot. All the officer could do was blink. Just a few moments later, the officer stopped moving. He lay on the ground with his eyes open. He “looked at peace,” Louie thought to himself.
Louie’s father ran to the patrol car and, using the officer’s radio, called for help. Within minutes, “all hell broke loose.” Dozens of officers responded and arrived with sirens blaring from all directions and tires screeching. The smell of burning brakes was strong.
Louie could see the emotion on the officers’ faces. A friend of theirs had just been shot. Several officers picked up their fallen comrade and, after placing him in the back seat, sped off.
Louie just watched as officers with tears in their eyes hugged each other and went to work looking for the suspect.
The officer who lost his life that day was Santa Ana Police Officer Nelson Sasscer. He was 24 years old and had been a Santa Ana police officer for only 18 months. In that short time, he already had been awarded Rookie of the Year by the department.
Forty-six years later, the 10-year-old boy now is 56-year-old Orange County District Attorney’s Investigator Louie Martinez. The events of that day planted a seed that continues to impact him all these years later.
After starting with Santa Ana PD in a high school employment program, Martinez eventually ended up working as a cop at the Orange Police Department before transferring to the Santa Ana Police Department. Eventually he would end up assigned to the homicide detail.
In 2011, he was hired by the Orange County District Attorney’s office where he is assigned to the elite Orange County Homicide Task Force. By Louie’s count, he’s been a part of more than 200 homicide investigations during his career.
Louie reflected: “The events of that day set my life in motion and I will always treasure and honor Officer Sasscer for his sacrifice.”
Decades later, Louie would meet Nelson Sasscer’s widow during a Peace Officer Memorial Ceremony. Louie felt compelled to share with her: “Your husband did not die alone and I am in part who I am today because of him. I have never forgotten him.”
Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.